After the jump: Nail Yakupov can’t play in Russia, Oilers’ ownership hints that it might consider moving the team to Seattle, and Glen Sather trades for the wrong Marchant, eventually leading to one of the greatest goals in Oilers history.
1. Yakupov suspended in Russia. I’ve already written at some length on the news that Nail Yakupov cannot play in KHL games until the IIHF rules on his transfer from the OHL’s Sarnia Sting to the KHL’s Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, but I’ll summarize my view based on talking to people with knowledge of the situation both publicly and off the record and reading the reports of media members who follow the CHL and KHL closely:
- It sounds like this action is being taken by Hockey Canada more for the sake of the CHL than for the Oilers or Sting
- Edmonton seems open to Yakupov spending the lockout in the KHL while Sarnia did not expect the player to return.
- With that said, I was told by Hockey Canada that their position is “that Yakupov has a contract with the Sarnia Sting of the OHL that runs through the end of the 2012-13 season, and should therefore be playing with Sarnia.”
- Other players have made the jump to Europe without this sort of impediment. Yahoo’s Neate Sager has reported that the Oilers’ assignment of Yakupov to Sarnia may be the issue. While that’s possible, a source with knowledge of the OHL suggested to me that the real issue is that Yakupov’s profile makes him an easier target than Alex Khokhlachev or Nicklas Jensen.
As for what happens in the end? I don’t know but Yakupov’s been clear that a) he wants to play in his hometown and b) he wants to play against men, not junior-aged players. I expect that, irrelevant as the player’s wishes seem to be in this political process, at the end of the day Yakupov will play where he wants to play. Of course, if the lockout ends then he’ll just come play in Edmonton.
2. The Oilers could recall… David Musil? According to Bob McKenzie of TSN, the Oilers made a point of ensuring that 19-year old defenceman David Musil (along with, of course, Yakupov) would be eligible for recall when NHL play resumes. Lowetide commented on this yesterday, but I couldn’t help including it because it really is telling as to how the team sees the player.
Musil’s still extremely unlikely to make the team at any point in 2012-13, but he could challenge at the 2013 training camp, and I expect he’ll be a full-time Oiler or close to it by 2014.
3. A public relations fiasco. There’s a delicate art to making a threat, and the Katz group blew it badly in their latest visit to Seattle. Appearing in Seattle was not a problem. Even making sure someone knew they were in Seattle wouldn’t have been a problem. Making an explicit statement that the Katz group was in negotiations with other cities – and then putting it on the team’s website – was an idiotic move.
Why was Katz in Seattle? Given that the threat of relocating there is largely nonsensical, it’s a bargaining ploy. It’s a bargaining ploy dismissed by the majority – including the mayor of the city. Because it was a weak threat, the overarching message I’ve seen repeated among fans is not ‘oh my goodness, the team might move!’ but rather ‘the guys running the Oilers are acting like jerks.’ Because of that, it’s difficult to see how this ploy gained the Katz Group anything other than ill will.
Had they played it more subtly – saying something along the lines of ‘the Katz Group remains committed to Edmonton’ while showing up in Seattle – the threat would have been implicit rather than explicit, and ill will would have been reduced. The way they actually did it was ham-fisted.
4. The Oilers television ratings are excellent. The point is often made that Edmonton lacks the kind of corporate sponsors who pay big advertising dollars, but at some point other factors – the size of the audience (big), the affluence of the audience (Northern Alberta is rich) and the passion of the audience (a hockey team in Edmonton connects more on an emotional level than it could be expected to in another city) overrule those factors. In Jason Gregor’s excellent article the other day on the possibility of Seattle relocation (linked above), he used San Jose (a nearby American team) as a comparable, which seemed reasonable. According to ratings data, the Oilers averaged more than 180,000 viewers for regional games on Sportsnet West while San Jose’s audience was 33,411 households – approximately equivalent to 77,000 total viewers.
5. Would the city be better off if the EIG still owned the team? I very much doubt it. At the end of the day, the difference between ‘I’m unwilling to pay for a new arena’ and ‘I’m unable to pay for a new arena’ is a small one – in either case, the city ends up footing a big chunk of the bill. I have very little doubt that the EIG would have been lobbying just as hard for public money as Katz is. As former owner Bruce Saville said in a recent interview, the arena might have been built already, “but not with our money.”
6. ”Fractured” ownership. Speaking of the Saville interview, his confirmation that the EIG was fractured when Katz bought the team is an interesting one (Side point: I think both the interview and the subsequent article on the Oilers’ official website were in response to this story, though the radio interview cited only “some bloggers” and the web story mentioned “recent reports”). Here’s the quote:
I think [Katz] used the term that it was ‘fractured,’ and it was. Not in public, but behind boardroom doors and shareholder meeting doors, it was fractured. There was a key problem. There were 37 owners. We got together for one purpose, and that was to save the team until we could get a new CBA and then we would either sell the team or fold it if the new CBA wasn’t acceptable. We did that, we had a cash call after we put our first money in, and we got it to the CBA. We thought we got a pretty good CBA and then it seemed everybody lost their appetite to follow through and sell the team, but we didn’t need to fold it then because we had a good CBA.
Three points here are worth considering: the degree of the fracture, the impact of time, and Saville’s personal perspective. First off, there’s no question that there were some difficulties within the EIG. Perusing both the published record and talking off the record to people with knowledge of the situation, it’s clear that there were personal problems within the ownership group, among them the fact that the larger shareholders felt at times like the smaller members of the group were ganging up on them.
However, on August 7, 2007, when the EIG board met to discuss selling to Katz for $185 million, something interesting happened. Thirty-two of 34 owners – more than 94% of the group – voted not to sell. Likely not coincidentally, two owners spoke in favour of selling to Katz at the time – and one of them was Saville. From the article linked above:
Only Saville and Ed Bean argued strongly in favour of selling to Katz. Saville had been unhappy with the way the board functioned right from the start and that had soured him on the EIG. As for Bean, he said Edmonton’s future was with a younger and richer man such as the 46-year-old Katz, a person with drive and vision to raise the team to the next level.
As time went on (and the price went up), more owners voted in favour of selling, until eventually Katz had the support he needed.
So, I’d make two key arguments about Saville’s comments. First: the EIG had internal squabbles, but nothing that put the team in jeopardy, and it was a ton of money rather than fractured unity that ultimately led to the Oilers being sold to Katz. Second: I have no reason to doubt Saville’s sincerity or honesty, but there’s every reason to think that he was one of the unhappiest members of the EIG, and it’s clear he was an early supporter of turning the team over. So while I take him at his word, I also think it likely that his view of the situation was more negative than most EIG members.
7. The league perspective: relocation vs. expansion. Many smart people – including Don Levin, who is widely expected to own an NHL team in Seattle when the NHL moves there – believe that the NHL will expand in the near future. Levin went so far as to say as he believed any team in Seattle would be awarded through expansion rather than relocation.
While expansion is not popular with many fans, one of the things expansion does is put more money in owners’ pockets than relocation. For example, when the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg in 2011, the NHL received a relocation fee of $60 million. When the Minnesota Wild entered the league in 2000, they paid an expansion fee of $80 million – the equivalent of more than $100 million today. With franchise values on the rise, even that $100 million may be a low-end estimate for putting an NHL team in a decent market.
8. The terror of 1998. In 1998, when the Oilers were sold to the EIG and relocation was a legitimate threat and top of mind for everyone, there were two unique factors. First, the Canadian dollar was trading at an insanely low rate – worth just 63 cents against the American dollar in 1998. In the 40-year history of a floating Canadian dollar, it was never worth less than it was in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s. It’s previous worst was in the mid-1980’s when it briefly dipped to just below 70 cents on the U.S. dollar. The other issue is population: at the time of the 1996 census, the City of Edmonton had just over 600,000 residents. Today, that number is in excess of 800,000. Note: Those are city populations, not metropolitan area populations (as originally claimed and subsequently corrected in this piece). The metropolitan area has grown from roughly 860,000 to 1,150,000 today in the same time period, a nearly identical percentage increase – jw.
Combine a 33 percent spike in population with the fact that historical lows in currency are – by definition – a rare event, and it’s easy to see why the current situation with the Oilers is absolutely nothing like 1998.
It’s nice enough to show twice.
9. The greatest Todd Marchant story ever. According to former New York Rangers general manager Neil Smith, when the Edmonton Oilers traded for Todd Marchant (who would go on to play nearly 1,200 NHL games), they didn’t really plan to trade for Todd Marchant. From Behind the Moves:
All year, I was telling Sather, ‘I want [Craig] MacTavish at the deadline because you are going to miss the playoffs and I need a fourth-line, penalty-kill, faceoff guy.’ So the deadline comes. And what he really wanted from me was a big, tall defenceman in the minors who I wouldn’t trade to him because I thought he was a great prospect. I said to him, ‘I’ll trade you Todd Marchant.’ So we made the trade. I swear on this: the next day, Sather called me and he said, ‘You f—ed me on this trade. Marchant is f—-ing 5’8”.’ I said, ‘I know he is.’… Sather said, ‘F—! It says in the book that he is 6’1”.’ I said, ‘You’re looking at the wrong Marchant. That’s his brother,’ because Todd’s brother was in the book, too. [Glen] thought he was trading for the other Marchant, I swear to God.”
Aside from the fact that it’s a great story, a few points:
- Terry Marchant was drafted by the Oilers that summer. The 6’1” center bounced around the minors after college but never got close to the NHL.
- Todd Marchant was 20 at the time of the trade. I’m not sure what his height was listed at in March of 1994, but I’ve always seen it at 5’10”, which wouldn’t be surprising given how the official size of players is often reported to be exaggerated.
- It’s hard to know which defenceman Smith was talking about, but the only AHL regular on the Rangers’ farm team who went on to have a significant NHL career was Mattias Norstrom. Norstrom was eventually dealt to Los Angeles two years later in a deal that saw the Rangers add former Oilers Jari Kurri and Marty McSorley.
10. Calculating hockey-related revenue. It’s an older column now, but I really enjoyed Elliotte Friedman’s take on hockey-related revenue. One key paragraph:
It’s complex stuff. But what it comes down to is that when NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr says the players don’t really get 57 per cent of HRR, these cost exemptions are what he’s talking about. As revenues rise to last season’s record of $3.3 billion, the value of those direct costs increases as well because they’re all percentage-based. I’ve seen the NHLPA use 51 per cent as the actual number.
The big, obvious point is that many NHL fans don’t know that hockey-related revenue is calculated after a bunch of deductions are made for expenses. So when people talk about all of the expenses coming out of the owners’ 43 percent, that’s not entirely accurate – many are deducted beforehand. There’s lots of other interesting stuff in there, though – including some points directly related to Edmonton.
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